Posts Tagged ‘Aircraft’

The Almaz – The Soviet Union’s Armed Spy Space Station

June 26, 2021

This is another fascinating little video from the military historian Mark Felton. I’ve put up a couple of his videos demolishing the stories about Nazi UFOs and space/time travel. But some real aerospace and military technology comes very close to Science Fiction. In this video, he talks about the Almaz armed spy stations launched by the Soviet Union in the 1970s. They were manned spacecraft, designed to photograph NATO military targets during the tense days of the Cold War. They were launched under the cover of a civilian space programme, Salyut. And to protect them from western attack, each station was armed with a rapid fire aircraft gun. It’s an idea close to the Bond film, Moonraker, in which Bond tackles Hugo Drax and his minions aboard their own space station.

The Almaz, ‘Diamond’, stations consisted of three sections. There was the main, piloted station module, a cargo section for resupply, and a launch and return craft. The stations were launched using a Proton rocket, and carried a two-three man crew, in space for 20 to 30 days before returning to Earth and being replaced by the next crew. They were armed with 25 mm Rikhtor guns, a modified version of the tail canon used on the Tupolev Tu-22 Blinder Russian bomber. The Russians were afraid that vibrations from the canon might damage the spacecraft, and so arranged a test firing. Salyut 3 (Almaz 2) was due to come to the end of its life in July 1974, and so was selected as a suitable test vehicle. After the last crew left on the 19th of that month, the station was remotely operated so that it targeted and shot down a defunct Soviet satellite. The Almaz station, the satellite, and the spent rounds were all burned up when they re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere afterwards. To date, Russia is the only country that has fired a weapon in space, but this may change.

I remember the Salyut space programme. It was always presented as just civilian research into living in space, and people were impressed by the lengths of time the Russians were able successfully to keep crews in orbit. However, these achievements were never as spectacular or interesting as the Moon landings. Now it’s been revealed that they were military spy missions, a fact that has almost certainly been revealed as a consequence of the Fall of Communism and the end of the Cold War.

It’s not just with the Bond film Moonraker that the Almaz stations have a similarity. In Kubrick’s and Clarke’s classic SF film, 2001, the world is on the brink of a nuclear war. After the first section, which shows a group of primitive hominids being led to intelligence by the black monolith on the prehistoric Earth, the film cuts to space, showing various satellites gliding in orbit while the Orion space shuttle makes it complex maneuvres to dock with the wheel-like space station. Although their purpose isn’t obvious, as Kubrick didn’t want people to think his film was repeating the themes of his Cold War nuclear satire, Dr Strangelove, these satellites are actually orbiting nuclear weapons platforms. Real killer satellites like them, but using ‘pop-up’ lasers to destroy nuclear missiles, were designed as part of Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative, or ‘Star Wars’ programme. There have been a number of books written about possible future wars in space, such as The Shape of Wars to Come, and a year or so ago former president Donald Trump called for the creation of an American space force. Which I think has provided the subject matter for a comedy on Netflix or one of the other streaming channels.

The arming of the Almaz stations shows how terrifyingly close the threat of war in space is to reality. I hope that for the sake of the world we manage to halt the militarisation of space and keep space exploration and, hopefully, colonisation, peaceful. Although this may be difficult given rising tensions between the West, Russia and China.

Mark Felton Demolishes the Claims for Die Glocke, Hitler’s Anti-Gravity Time/Space Machine

June 21, 2021

Yesterday I posted up a piece by the military historian, Dr Mark Felton, considering the evidence for Nazi flying discs. Felton’s an expert on World War II and the military technology of that time. He came to the conclusion that if the Nazis were experimenting with flying discs, then they were almost certainly failures given the spectacular failures of later, post-War experimental disc-shaped aircraft like the Avrocar. In this video he casts a similarly bleak, withering gaze over claims that the Nazis were working on a secret antigravity craft, called Die Glocke, or ‘the Bell’ because of its resemblance to the musical instrument installed in church towers. Not only is it claimed that the Glocke used antigravity, but it was also apparently a time/space machine. I thought immediately of Dr Who’s TARDIS. Did the Nazis really possess such a device, or have the people who are pushing this watched too many episodes of Dr Who, Time Tunnel and so on?

Felton begins in his usual dry manner. ‘Did’, he asks, ‘the Nazis possess antigravity? Could they flip between dimensions? And did Adolf Hitler escape to the Moon using such a craft? No, I haven’t been self-medicating,’, he says, and goes on to explain he’s only considering the claims made in ‘certain documentaries’. He wants to know if they contain any truth or are just ‘bovine excrement’. I think after watching this the answer lies far more on the side of bovine excrement, but I’ve never been persuaded by the Nazi saucer myth. But Felton states that the Americans and their Allies were astounded by how advanced German aerospace engineering was. The Nazi regime produced a number of highly advanced air- and spacecraft, like the Messerschmitt 262 jet plane, the Bachem Natter rocket interceptor, the V1 Flying Bomb, the V2 rocket. It was a secretive regime, operating from underground bases using slave labour, and so it was ideal for distortion of historical truth. Much of that distorted history was created by the Nazis themselves, and by their successors since then.

The video states that the Glocke entered public consciousness in a book published in 2000. This, followed by others, claimed that the project was under the control of Hans Kammler, the head of the V2 project. Kammler was the stereotypical Nazi leader, straight out of a comic book. He disappeared at the end of the War and was never seen again. It was supposedly powered by a highly volatile substance, red mercury. But Felton eschews discussing how it worked because it’s all theoretical. He just gives a physical description of the putative machine, stating it was 12-14 feet tall, shaped like a Bell, and had a swastika on its side, just so’s people knew where it came from. Is there any documentary evidence for this? No. The only evidence comes from an interview between an author and a Polish intelligence officer, who claimed access to a dossier produced by the SS personnel working on the project. Various names have been suggested for the scientists and officers in charge. One of them is Werner Heisenberg, due to a close similarity between his name and one of the scientists supposedly involved. Heisenberg was the German physicist in charge of the Nazis’ atomic programme. He produced a nuclear reactor, which partially worked, and an atomic bomb which didn’t. Mercifully. But everything is known about what he did during the War, and he was captured and thoroughly interrogated by the Americans afterwards. He didn’t mention the Glocke. Which in my view means that he very definitely wasn’t involved.

The video goes back further, stating that claims of the Glocke actually go back even further, to 1960 and the publication of the French author’s Bergier and Pauwels’ Le Matin des Magiciens, translated into English in 1963 as The Morning of the Magicians. This made a series of claims about the Nazis, including UFOs and occultism, that were roughly based on fact. The Horten brothers had designed flying wing aircraft, which resemble UFOs. After the War their plane ended up in America. Felton says that it clearly influenced later American planes, like the Stealth aircraft. He suggests the Horten flying wing plane contributed to the flying saucer craze of the late 1940s. It has been suggested that what Kenneth Arnold saw in his 1947 flight over the Rockies, which produced the term ‘flying saucer’, was in fact the Hortens flying wings being secretly flown. As for Nazi occultism, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, was an occultist. He intended Wewelsburg castle to be a pseudo-pagan temple, but claims of Nazi involvement in the occult have been greatly exaggerated. Indeed they have. Nicholas Goodricke-Clarke, in his book on Nazi paganism, states that Hitler drew on the bizarre evolutionary ideas of the neo-Pagan cults in Germany and Vienna, like the Ariosophists, whose ideas really were bizarre and quite barking. He also had some contact with the Thule society. However, the pagan sects were banned during the Third Reich because Adolf was afraid they’d divide Germans. He concludes that real Nazi paganism was slight, except in the case of Himmler and the SS, who really did believe in it and wanted his vile organisation to be a new pagan order. Pauwels and Bergier’s book fed into the nascent 60s counterculture and then into the later New Age. Their book is notorious, and has certainly been credited as a source for much New Age speculation and pseudo-history by magazines like the Fortean Times. I think there was a split between the two authors. Bergier was an anti-Nazi, who had spent time in a concentration camp. I think he may even have been Jewish. Pauwels, on the other hand, gravitated towards the far right.

Villainous Nazi super-scientists also became part of SF pulp fiction of the 1960s and 70s. The Nazis were supposed to have discovered the secrets of space and even time travel. One of the books flashed up in this part of the video is Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream. This came out in the 1980s, and pondered what would have happened if Hitler had emigrated to America and become a pulp SF writer. The West German authorities weren’t impressed, and it was banned in Germany under the Basic Law outlawing the glorification of the Nazis. I found it in a secondhand bookshop in Cheltenham. It proudly boasted that it contained the SF/Fantasy novel Hitler would have written. Well, Hitler didn’t go to America, and never wrote any SF or Fantasy novels, and the book actually looked really dull. So I saved my money and didn’t buy it. This type of literature flourished because the Americans had been so impressed by genuine German scientific achievements. And the post-War atomic age and UFO craze allowed imaginations to run riot. So Nazi scientists also turned up as the villains in various SF film and TV shows. One prize example of that is the X-Files, in which the secret programme to breed human-alien hybrids at the heart of the UFO mystery is done by Nazi biologists, who came to America under Operation Paperclip.

The video then asks whether the Nazis really did experiment with antigravity. Well, they experimented with everything else, including occultism. NASA was also experimenting with antigravity from the 1990s onwards, as were the Russians and major aerospace corporations like Boeing in the US and BAe Systems in Britain. The Russians even published a scientific paper on it. But despite their deep pockets, these were all failures. And it seems that Operation Paperclip, which successfully collected German rocket scientists, chemical and biological weapons experts, and aerospace engineers, somehow failed to get their antigravity experts. We don’t have the names of any of the scientists and engineers, where they worked or even any credible documents about them. If the Glocke really had been built and its scientists captured by the US and USSR, why were the Americans and Russians trying to build it all from scratch. And if Hitler did have antigravity and UFOs, then how the hell did he lose the War?

Some sources claim that the project was also run by SS Gruppenfuhrers Emil Mazuw and Jakob Sporrenberg, both deeply noxious individuals. Mazuw was the governor of Pomerania, one of the former German territories later given to Poland after the War along with Silesia. He was the head of the SS and high police in Pomerania, and was deeply involved in the Holocaust. Before the War he was a factory worker. What use would he have been to a secret scientific project at the cutting edge of physics? Ditto Sporrenberg. He was also deeply involved in the Shoah, and had zero scientific or engineering background.

The video then considers the 1965 Kecksburg UFO crash, which is also cited as the evidence for the Glocke’s existence. That year a bright fireball was seen in the sky over six US states and Ontario in Canada, coming down in Kecksburg, Pennsylvania. The US army was mobilised, cordoning the area off and taking something away. In 2005 NASA revealed that the object was a capture Russian satellite, the Cosmos 96, which had re-entered the atmosphere and broken up. But this has provided much material for certain TV documentaries from the 90s to the present.

Felton concludes that if the Glocke ever existed, it was probably part of the German nuclear programme, and not a time machine. That’s if it ever existed at all. Echoing the X-Files‘ Fox Mulder, he finishes with ‘The truth is out there, as they say’.

Well, yes, the truth is out there. But as Scully was also fond of reminding Mulder, so are lies. And the Glocke is almost certainly one of these. The UFO world is riddled with fantasists and liars, some of whom are government agents apparently on a mission to spread misinformation. I think this is to destabilise the UFO milieu and stop them getting too close to real secret military aircraft. There’s the case of a civilian contractor working near one of the US secret bases, who became convinced that it really did contain a captured alien, with whom he was communicating over the internet. It seems he was being deliberately led up the garden path and pushed into madness by two air intelligence operatives, who first fed him information apparently supporting his views, and then told him it was all rubbish. It’s a technique known in the intelligence world as ‘the double-bubble’. They lead the target first one way, pretending to be whistleblowers, and then tell them it’s all lies, leaving them confused and not knowing what to believe.

Some UFO sightings are almost certainly of secret spy aircraft, including balloons. The Russians also encouraged belief in UFOs as a spurious explanation for secret space launches from Kapustin Yar, their main rocket complex. I also think that some of the stories about crashed UFOs, secret Nazi research were disinformation spread by the superpowers to put the others off the scent. The extraterrestrial hypothesis was only one explanation for UFOs after the War. It’s been suggested that when Major Quintillana said that the US had captured a flying disc at Roswell, he was deliberately trying to mislead the Russians and hide what had really come down, which was a Project Mogul spy balloon. Friends of mine are convinced that the Russians were similarly running a disinformation campaign about Soviet official psychical research in the 1970s. A number of western journos were given tours of secret Russian bases where experiments were being conducted into telepathy, telekinesis and so on. Some of the more excitable American generals were talking about a ‘psychic cold War’. One of the most bonkers stories I’ve heard was that the Russians were supposed to have developed hyperspace nuclear missiles. Instead of passing through normal space, these rockets were to be teleported to their destinations by trained psychics, rather like the mutated navigators folding space in the David Lynch film of Frank Herbert’s Dune. The hacks who followed up these stories found the secret bases were actually bog-standard factories. Workers told them that their places of work had been briefly taken over by the government, new rooms constructed, and a lot of strange equipment put in which was subsequently taken out. It looks very much like the Russian government believed it psychic research was all nonsense – hardly surprising for an officially atheist regime committed to philosophical materialism. The whole point of the exercise was to convince the Americans it worked, so they’d waste their money going down a technological and military blind alley. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Polish intelligence agent at the heart of this claim had been engaged on a similar project. Or perhaps he was just lying on his own time.

As for fantasists and yarn-spinners, well, I believe the Montauk project is one prize example. This was the subject of a series of books published in the 90s by two Americans. They claimed there had also been a secret time travel project based on, you guessed it, Nazi research. I think it also involved evil aliens and whatever else was going round the UFO world at the time. Kevin McClure and the Magonians were highly suspicious of it, not just because it was bullsh*t, but because it also seemed to glorify the Third Reich. They suspected the authors of writing far-right propaganda.

The Montauk project also appears to be partly based on the Philadelphia Experiment. This was the claim that during the War the Americans had conducted an experiment to render warships invisible to radar using magnetism, following Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. This had gone seriously wrong. The crew of the ship under test suffered terrible effects. Some burst into flame, another walked straight through a bulkhead before the ship itself vanished. The story was later turned into a time travel movie of the same name in the 1980s.

Was it true? Naaah. Although I’ve seen it in various UFO books, the claims seem to come down to one man. I’ve forgotten his name, but someone who knew him wrote in about him to the Fortean Times. The man had been his uncle, an alcoholic and spinner of tall tales, who had precious little, if anything, to do with science or the military.

It looks to me very much like the Glocke antigravity time/space machine is yet another of this myths or pieces of disinformation. I don’t think it was ever built, and the Polish intelligence officer who claimed it was, was a liar. As for the authors of the subsequent books and articles claiming its all true, no doubt many of them are sincerely genuine. But it doesn’t mean they’re right.

And some of the people pushing the Nazi saucer myths are real Nazis, seeking glorify the regime through sensational claims of secret technology and bases in the Canadian far north, Antarctica and the Moon. They do it to enthral people with the glamour of Nazi technology to divert attention away from the real horrors it perpetrated.

I’m sure most of the people, who believe in Nazi UFOs are decent people, who are genuinely appalled at the atrocities committed by Hitler and his minions. But there are Nazis out there trying to manipulate people, and that’s the danger.

Nazism and Fascism need to be fought and any claims of Nazi superscience or occult power critically examined, even if it seems to be harmless nonsense.

Mark Felton Examines Nazi Flying Saucer Research

June 20, 2021

This might interest some of the readers of this blog, who are interested in the rumours that during World War II the Nazis were engaged in developing Flying Saucers. Mark Felton, according to the biographical note to his channel’s videos, is an historian and the author of 22 books as well as numerous appearances on various TV shows. His channel, Mark Felton Productions, puts up videos about the Second World War and particularly its military technology. Three days ago on the 17th June 2021, he put up this video entitled ‘Hitler’s Flying Saucers – Fact or Fantasy?’

The video begins with the statement that German aeronautical engineering during the War was excellent and in advance of the Allies, as shown by the Messerschmitt Komet rocket plane and the V2 rocket. But there have also been rumours that they were developing disc-shaped craft. The video shows here a photo of the Sack AS-6, which really does look like a flying disc. The engineer credited with this research is Joseph Andreas Epp, who designed a circular aircraft with helicopter blades mounted on top, inspirited by the Focke-Wulf FW61 helicopter. He created four designs for these disc-shaped craft, all helicopters with adjustable rotor blades, and claimed to have built a 1/10 scale model, which he sent to the Ministry of Aviation in 1941. These designs and the model were examined by staff belonging to General Ernst Udet. The material was then passed on Walter Dornberger, the head of the Peenemunde V2 research base. A facility was supposedly built at Prague airport to develop these novel aircraft and the project placed under the authority of Rudolf Schriever and Jurgen Habermohl, and given assistance from a number of firms and organisations including the Luftwaffe and Skoda. It was run by Albert Speer’s armaments ministry until 1944 when it was absorbed into the V2 under the SS, led by Hans Kammler. One flying disc was supposedly built, dubbed the Flugkreisel, which incorporated some of Epp’s designs amongst other, later innovations. Epp allegedly took a grainy photograph of the disc in flight from Prague airport through vegetation as he was approaching it one day in his capacity as consultant. This was one of four unofficial flights, and the aircraft made its first official flight in January 1945. This is supported by Georg Klein, who was supposedly one of the craft’s designers at Prague, and a sworn statement from a test pilot, Georg Langer, after the end of the War. But Felton cautions that all this must be taken with a pinch of salt.

In addition to Epp, Schriever and Habermohl, there was a third project to develop flying discs carried on at the airport. This was supposedly a joint German-Italian programme under Richard Miethe and the Italian professor Giuseppe Belluzzo. It’s existence is also supported by the testimony of the staff involved, but these could be lying. There are designs for such an aircraft dating from the Second World War as well as a second photo of a disc in flight, but this could have been planted after the War to add verisimilitude.

In addition to the Germans, other countries were also active developing saucer-shaped craft. These included America with the Vought V-173 ‘Flying Pancake’ and the Vought XF5U. The German projects were abandoned 15th April 1945 as the Red Army closed in on Prague. The designs were packed up and taken away and the vehicles themselves taken out of their hangars and burned. Schriever later set himself up as an inventor, also working as a trucker for the occupying Allies to support himself. In 1948 his workshop was burgled and his materials on flying discs were stolen. He claimed he was approached by the western intelligence agencies for material on flying discs, but refused to cooperate. He officially died in 1953, but people who knew him later claimed they had seen him alive in the ’60s. Epp continued working on flying discs, and claimed he had built a flying model in 1946, and continued flying them into the 1950s. He also wrote about Nazi flying discs and appeared on German television talking about them. He claims that he approached the Americans with his ideas, but was rebuffed. He married, and briefly settled in East Germany, returning to West Germany in 1959. He applied for a patent, but this was blocked by the Americans for ten years. This conflicts with what is known about the American interest in Nazi technology, such as Operation Paperclip, the programme that saw the transfer of the V2 scientists and personnel to America to continue their rocket research.

Felton speculates that the Americans were interested in flying disc designs, as the Miethe disc resembles an aircraft designed by the British engineer, John Frost, called ‘Project Y’. The Miethe disc contained an internal, rotating jet engine. It was launched from a ramp. For its undercarriage, it used skids like the Komet rocket plane. ‘Project Y’, which looks rather spade-like, was dubbed ‘the Flying Manta’ and developed by Avro Canada, and it was rumoured that Miethe helped with the project. Frost had previously worked for De Havilland in Britain, developing the swept-wing, tailless De Havilland DH108 Swallow. He migrated to Canada in 1947, where he helped to create the CF-100 jet fighter, joining the Special Project Group set up in Avro Canada in 1952. This was set up to develop a VTOL aircraft which could be used after the destruction of airports in a nuclear war. The result was the VZ-9 Avrocar. This used a single turbo rotor to produce lift and thrust. It had difficulty going any higher than 3 feet off the ground, and the project was cancelled in 1961 when the American Air Force, which had supplied the funding, pulled the plug.

The similarities between these projects and those of the Germans may be coincidental, but they allow Felton to suggest the following conclusions:

  1. If Miethe and the Germans were involved in the Avrocar, then its failure shows that they were unable to make their own aircraft fly.
  2. Even if the Canadian project had no input from the Germans, it still faced some of the same problems. Its failure is therefore odd if the Germans, with less resources and knowledge, had been successful years before.
  3. The existence of the Avrocar indicates that the Americans had not captured a Nazi saucer about the time of the Roswell crash, for the reason that if the Americans had, why was the Avrocar a failure? It also shows that UFOs were not American. Here the video shows a clip of Airforce General Sandford talking about UFOs. He states that they have received 3,000 sightings, the great bulk of which could be adequately explained. These are hoaxes, misidentified aircraft, and meteorological and electrical phenomena. But some sightings were still unexplained and the American air force was still attempting to resolve them. But they were convinced that these sightings showed no pattern or purpose that related to a threat to the US.
  4. But did research into flying discs terminate with the Avrocar? The Groom Lake test facility, dubbed Area 51, was active from 1951 and was the place where a series of high-performance military aircraft, including the U2 spy plane, the Blackbird and the stealth fighter, were developed and tested.

Felton also suggests that Nazi disc research could also be entirely fictional and that Epp and co. were lying. This has been turned into a credible story by documentary film-makers, and that flying discs are really a post-War development. As the Nazis experimented with every other form of aircraft, it is credible that some experiments were made. It is not certain, however, if any of these aircraft were ever built of flown. What is certain is that Hitler never flew to a secret Antarctic base in one.

Felton thanks Panzerfux military kits for the use of the photograph of the Miethe disc, and begins his video with the statement that it ‘isn’t going to be like certain kinds of popular TV documentaries, much in vogue at the moment’. This looks like a swipe at some of the programmes on the History Channel, which has run any number of programmes on UFOs. It also has a TV series in which Dr Allen Hynek and a USAF officer try to get at the truth about flying saucers, while von Braun and his team are experimenting with a real one. The first series of the show is out on video, and looks like an attempt to do something vaguely like the X-Files but for the 21st century.

There has been discussion and debate about the possible existence of Nazi flying saucers since the end of the Second World War, and this reached a peak in the 1990s when W.A. Harbinson published Projekt UFO. This concluded that the Nazis really did have flying saucers and that these were now stationed at a secret Nazi base in Antarctica. The Nazis had also created a race of cyborg pilots, surgically altered to fly them and survive the high speeds and dangerous conditions. Kevin McClure and the peeps over at Magonia did some research into these claims, and concluded that they were rubbish. The evidence for some of them is tenuous and contradictory. For example, Giuseppe Belluzzo is also called ‘Bellonzo’ in some of these accounts. Some of the people pushing these stories were neo-Nazis, and it looks like some of the purpose behind their doing so was to keep alive the myth that the Nazis were super-scientists far in advance of the Allies. I’m extremely doubtful about this. The Germans had excellent scientists and engineers, thanks to the Prussian educational system set up in the 19th century. But their scientists and engineers faced some of the problems of official apathy ours did. Ohain, the genius behind the German jet aircraft, was also repeatedly turned down by the German air force and aviation authorities, just as Frank Whittle, the British jet inventor, was over here. Hitler was also initially convinced that the V2 was going to be a failure due to a recurring dream he had of the machine falling over and exploding. His opposition was only reversed after the Peenemunde team invited him to see the progress they had been making in its development.

And then there’s the very far-fetched story put out in videos like the one in which the Nazis developed real, space-travelling flying saucers from mediumistic messages telepathically received from Aldebaran. In my opinion, this is complete nonsense. I was always sceptical of the idea that the Nazis developed flying discs, but it looks like there may be more evidence for them than I thought.

If they were developed, however, I think they’re far more likely to have been aircraft like the Flying Pancake, Project Y and Avrocar than highly advanced, high performance vehicles or spacecraft.

Video of Trevithick’s Steam Carriage in Bristol

March 14, 2021

I’ve an interest in the real, Victorian technology that really does resemble the ideas and inventions in Steampunk Science Fiction. This is the SF genre that, following Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and other early writers, tries to imagine what it would have been like had the Victorians had cars, aircraft, robots, spaceships, computers and time travel. And at certain points the Victorians came very close to creating those worlds. Bruce Sterling’s and William Gibson’s The Difference Engine, set in the Victorian computer age, was a piece of speculation about what kind of society would have emerged, if William Babbage’s pioneering computer, the Difference Engine of the title, had been built. And also if the 1820s Tory government had fallen to be replaced the rule of Lord Byron. The 19th century was a hugely inventive age, as scientists and engineers explored new possibilities and discoveries. George Cayley in Britain successfully invented a glider, in France Giffard created a dirigible airship, flying it around the Eiffel Tower. And from the very beginning of the century scientists and inventors attempted to develop the first ancestors of the modern car, run on coal and steam, of course.

One of these was a steam carriage designed by the Cornish engineer, Richard Trevithick, in 1801. This was built, but wasn’t successful. This did not stop other engineers attempting to perfect such vehicles, and steam cars continued to be developed and built well into the 20th century. The most famous of these was the American Stanley Steamer of 1901.

I found this short video on Johnofbristol’s channel on YouTube. It shows a replica of Trevithick’s vehicle being driven around Bristol docks. From the cranes and the building over the other side of the river, it looks like it was shot outside Bristol’s M Shed museum. This was formerly the site of the city’s Industrial Museum, and still contains among its exhibits some fascinating pieces from the city’s industrial past. These include the aircraft and vehicles produced by Bristol’s aerospace and transport companies.

A Real Steampunk Car and Motorcycle

February 19, 2021

Steampunk is a form of Science Fiction which speculates on what the world would have been like if they’d managed to invent cars, computers, aircraft and space and time travel. It follows Bruce Sterling’s and William Gibson’s novel, The Difference Engine, set in an alternative past where Charles Babbage’s pioneering computer, the difference engine of the title, has been built and Britain is ruled by Lord Byron. It’s heavily influenced by early SF writers such as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. But some of the machines and inventions in the genre are very close to reality. In fact there was a history book published the other year with the title The Real Victorian Steampunk, or something like that. George Cayley in Britain invented a glider, while a Frenchman, Giffard, developed a dirigible airship in the 1850s and successfully demonstrated it by flying around the Eiffel Tower. And from the first years of the 19th century onwards, inventors were busy developing the first antecedents of the modern car and motorcycle, driven by steam, of course.

I found these two videos on Wildlyfunny’s channel on YouTube. They look like they’re from a steam rally somewhere in eastern Europe, though the blurbs for them doesn’t say where and I’m afraid I don’t recognise the language. This one below is of the 1886 Baffrey Steam Car.

Steam car Baffrey 1886 / Parní vůz Baffrey – YouTube

This second video looks like it’s from the same rally, and is of the 1869 Roper steam motorcycle, invented by Sylvester Howard Roper and demonstrated at fairs and circuses across the US. According to a couple of the commenters, Roper became the first motorcycle casualty when he was killed in a race against seven, ordinary human-powered bicycles.

The FIRST Steam Motorcycle in the world, ROPER 1869 year! – YouTube

The sheer inventiveness of the Victorians never ceases to amaze me, and you do wonder what would have happened had these machines taken off before the invention of the modern internal combustion engine. One of the reasons why they didn’t, and it was only until the invention of the modern petrol/ diesel driven automobile in the later 19th century that cars became an effective rival to horse-drawn transport, is because steam engines weren’t a sufficiently effective power source. It’s also why they were unable to develop steam-driven airplanes. Nevertheless, these machines are still awesome in their ingenuity and a fascinating episode in the history of the automobile.

The 1920s’ View of the Future

January 10, 2021

I found this fascinating video on the ‘1920s Channel’ on YouTube. It’s about the decades view of the future, taken from the pulp magazine, Science and Invention, founded and edited by Hugo Gernsbach. Gernsbach is one of the major figures in 20th century SF. An immigrant to America from Luxembourg, he was passionately enthusiastic about science and technology and founded the first the first SF pulp magazines. He also wrote an SF novel, Ralph 124C41 + A Romance of the Year 2660, and coined the term ‘scientifiction’ to describe the new genre. This was shortened and altered by his successors and rivals to become the modern term.

The channel’s main man says he’s interested in 1920s futurism because it falls between the ‘Steam Punk’ predictions of the Victorians and the ‘Atom Punk’ of the 1950s and 1960s, although it also has some elements of the ‘Diesel Punk’ of the 1940s. He states that the 1920s and the 1950s were similar decades, in that both followed major wars but were periods of optimism. Most of the illustrations were by Frank R. Paul, Gernsbach’s artist, who is now justly respected as one of the foremost pioneers of SF art. Among the inventions and developments the magazine predicted are massive, skyscraper cities now a staple of SF in such classic films as Metropolis and Blade Runner. But the magazine also predicted underground cities, as well as improved scientific instruments like astronomical telescopes, devices for signalling Mars, bizarre machines for taking care of one’s health, like the ‘sun shower’ and health meter. There are new entertainment media, like television and a cinema with four screens, as well as new musical instruments like the Theremin. This last creates sound through the alteration of a magnetic field by the player’s hands. It’s one of the many instruments played by the hugely talented Bill Bailey. The magazine also looked at the vehicles of the future. These included moving walkways, cars and railways. Cars wouldn’t be confined to the road, but would fly, and the magazine also showed the new aircraft of the future. Humanity would master anti-gravity and fly beyond Earth into space. At the same time, new ships and flying boats would cross the oceans, while people would venture underneath the seas in diving suits that somewhat resemble the metallic suits created to withstand the crushing pressures of the ocean depths. And the magazine also predicted that SF staple, the robot. One of these was to be a ‘police automaton’, like Robocop.

The illustrations are taken from, where they’re available for free, and the video is accompanied by some of the music of the period, so be warned!

Futurism Of The 1920s – YouTube

It’s interesting watching the video to see how much of modern SF was formed in the decade, and to compare its predictions with reality. Most of these predictions haven’t actually become reality. Flying cars are still waiting to happen, we don’t have zeppelin aircraft carriers and skyscraper cities haven’t quite become the dominant urban form. Nor do we have truly intelligent machines and robots. On the other hand, I think the ideas and devices Gernsbach and Paul discussed and portrayed in the magazine still have the power to inspire, and think that they would make a great source of ideas for future, aspiring SF writers.

MechaRandom on Israeli Space General’s Claim that the Aliens Really Are Here

December 9, 2020

Here’s a piece about Israel, which doesn’t involve them maltreating the Palestinians. But are they really in touch, along with the US, with beings from another planet?

MechaRandom42 is a vlogger, who talks about SF/Fantasy film, TV and comics, especially Star Wars, Star Trek and Dr. Who. She’s very critical about recent treatment of these classic series and film franchises, which she and many other fans believe have been ruined for explicitly ideological reasons. For example, popular, long-standing male characters in her view have been deliberately humiliated and undermined in order to give centre stage to poorly written and unlikeable female characters in order to preach an explicit and simplistic feminist message. At the same time gay and trans characters are also included in popular film franchises and TV series, like Batwoman, but the treatment given them is also simplistic. It’s tokenism, and this forced diversity comes at the expense of creating genuinely well-crafted, popular characters or intelligent, coherent and involving plots and stories. She’s also critical of recent Star Trek series, like Star Trek Picard, for abandoning the utopian optimism of previous series, like Classic Trek, The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager and so forth, for a darker, dystopian future that’s robbed the series of its soul and reduced it to a generic SF show which just uses the settings and characters of Trek. She also laments the series’ decline in their ability to treat issues like racism, sexism and gayness. Previous series of Trek did so intelligently and from the perspective that humanity had already transcended these problems. The series often had an explicit message, but it took the trouble to explain them to the audience and didn’t patronise or insult them if they disagreed. Now their treatment is much cruder, reasoned argument is replaced by shrill preaching and there’s an underlying attitude that everyone who disagrees with the message must be an ‘-ist’ or a ‘-phobe’. This has resulted in these once popular film franchises, TV series and comics losing viewers and readers. And it’s one of the reasons the last series of Dr. Who catastrophically lost viewers.

It’s a controversial view, but one shared by a number of other Youtubers and fans of these genres. Some of this criticism comes from people on the political right, but it has also been expressed by peeps on the other side of the political spectrum. They argue that there have always been a concern with these issues in popular entertainment, and that there hasn’t been a shortage of strong female characters in SF. The Alien franchise’s Ellen Ripley is a classic example. The problem is that these issues aren’t being intelligently handled, but instead have been taken over by creators who are ideologically intolerant and seem intent on alienating their audience rather than winning them other.

In this video, however, she moves away from this to discuss the claims of Haim Eshad, a retired Israeli general, professor and former head of their Space Security Force, that the US and Israel really have made contact with aliens. According to the Jerusalem Post, citing another Israeli paper Yediot Aharonot, the two countries have made contact with the Galactic Federation, and they’re operating an underground base on Mars jointly with the aliens. Donald Trump was on the verge of announcing the extraterrestrial presence on Earth, but was stopped from doing so. The aliens don’t which to cause mass panic, and believe we are not ready for them just yet. He’s also got a book coming out, which he says contains more details and evidence.

MechaRandom compares this with the Star Trek universe and its theme of whether humanity is sufficiently evolved to meet aliens. She believes that we aren’t, and that this is due to the way society has dumbed down so we don’t use our ability to do Maths. This is the area we need to be concentrating on, in her opinion, if we are to meet aliens. She also wonders whether the retired military gentleman really is telling the truth, or if he’s ‘a crazy old guy’. He’s 87.

Aliens & The Galactic Federation Are Real For Reals This Time? – YouTube

To people with more than a superficial knowledge of Ufolore, this is very familiar stuff. Ever since Kenneth Arnold made his sighting of them over the Rockies in the 1947, there have been tales of secret government pacts with aliens, underground bases and so on. And there have been a string of Contactees, like George Adamski, who claimed that they had personally made contact with aliens, who had given them a message for humanity. These aliens also claimed to come from some kind of galactic or interplanetary federation, and their messages reflected the pressing global concerns of the day. In the 1950s this was the threat of nuclear war. In the 1980s and 1990s this was the threat to the environment, mirroring the rise of the Green movement. Whole religions have been built on such claimed contact, like the Raelians, UNARIUS and the Aetherius Society. This was set up in the 1950s by taxi driver George King, who heard a voice in his kitchen one day telling him that he should ‘prepare to be the voice of interplanetary parliament’. The Society claimed that King was in touch with an alien, Aetherius, on Venus, where Jesus was also alive and well, as well as Mars Sector 6.

There have been rumours of underground bases since at least the 1980s, as well as various newspaper and magazine articles and books written by government or military officials like Donald Keyhoe, Nick Pope, and the pseudonymous ‘Commander X’. The British hoax TV programme, Alternative 3, broadcast in the 1970s as an April Fool’s joke, also claimed that the Americans and Russians were secretly operating bases on the Moon and Mars, to which people were being kidnapped for use as slave labour in the event of global environmental collapse and the extinction of terrestrial humanity.

There are also stories that President Truman made contact with aliens when they landed at Holloman AFB in the ’40s or ’50s. JFK is also supposed to have been about to reveal the truth about the aliens, which is why he was assassinated. Ronald Reagan is also supposed to have been privy to this information, as shown by his remark to Steven Spielberg during a screening of ET at the White House: ‘Only five people in this room know how true all this is’.

You get the picture. Nothing Eshad has said, at least according to the Jerusalem Post article, is original. If anything, it’s curiously dated. The Contactee Howard Menger claimed to have seen Americans and Russians cooperating together on a secret base on the Moon when the space brothers took him there on one of his extraterrestrial jaunts. Menger was not a military man, but a barber. Hence the title of one of his books was Hairdresser to the Space People, or something like it.

Is Eshad telling the truth, or is he deluded or actually lying? My guess it’s one of the last two. Age and the pressures of holding such a senior command in the tense, war-torn Middle East could have taken their toll on the old boy’s mental health. It might also be that he may have personally had some kind of UFO sighting or experience, like some of the US astronauts. Or had UFO reports from the service personnel under him passed up for his comments. Researching the subject, he’s come across all the tall tales and rumours, and managed to convince himself they’re true.

On the other hand, he could very well be spinning yarns himself. He could be telling these stories as some kind of personal joke and to make a buck on the side from the sales of his forthcoming book. Or there may be something far more sinister going on here. There’s a large amount of evidence that the US intelligence agencies have been deliberately spreading disinformation about alien contact, crashed spacecraft and secret underground bases for their own purposes. Some of this might be destabilise the UFO community, which they have often viewed as a security threat because of the interest taken in secret aircraft and the air force and other bases, which are supposed to hide alien spacecraft and bodies. Some UFO sightings have been of American spy planes. These were often flown from US airbases in Britain and elsewhere, but were so secret that the Americans didn’t tell their allies in the host nations. It might be that Eshad is telling these tales of alien contact in order to have everyone looking in the wrong direction and so ignoring something that his country is really doing in space. At present the militarisation of space is banned under international law. Trump wants to break this and set up an American Space Force. Perhaps Israel is considering doing the same, but wants everyone to disregard it on the grounds that people think that what they’ve seen are alien spacecraft, and only nutters believe in UFOs and aliens.

And you could go on speculating. We really don’t know he’s telling these stories about secret contact with aliens, and can only guess at his motives. But I’m certain that aliens aren’t here, that Trump wasn’t going to spill the beans about them and that there definitely isn’t a secret US-alien base on Mars.

‘I’ Report of Successful Test of Virgin Hyperloop Maglev Train

November 13, 2020

Here’s an interesting piece of science/technology news. Tuesday’s I, for 10th November 2020, carried a piece by Rhiannon Williams, ‘New tube: Hyperloop carries first passengers in 100 mph test run’, which reported that Virgin Hyperloop had successfully tested their proposed maglev transport system. This is a type of magnetically levitated train running in a sealed tunnel from which the air has been removed so that there is no atmospheric resistance. The article ran

Two passengers have become the first to use Hyperloop, a technology which claims to be the future of ultra-fast ground transport.

The demonstration took place on a 500-metre test track in the Nevada desert outside Las Vegas on Sunday.

Josh Giegel, Virgin Hyperloop’s chief technology officer and co-founder, and Sara Luchlan, the company’s head of passenger experience, climbed into a Virgin Hyperloop pod before it entered an airlock inside an enclosed vacuum tube.

Footage showed the pod taking about 15 seconds to complete the journey as the air inside the tube was removed, accelerating the pod to 100 mph before it slowed to a halt.

The futuristic system is intended eventually to allow journeys of up to 670 mph using electric propulsion, and magnetic levitation in a tube, which is in near-vacuum conditions.

The Shanghai Maglev, the fastest commercial bullet train, which also uses magnetic levitation, is capable of top speeds of 3000 mph, meaning it could end up being considered slow by the Hyperloop’s theoretical future standards. The fastest speed achieved by a maglev train was 375 mph on a test run in Japan.

Virgin Hyperloop was founded in 2014 and builds on a proposal by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

The technology could allow passengers to travel between Heathrow and Gatwick airports, which are 45 miles apart, in just four minutes, the company’s previous chief executive, Rob Lloyd, told the BBC in 2018.

Ms Luchlan described the experience as “exhilarating”. It had, she added, been smooth, and “not at all like a rollercoaster”.

The business hopes to seat up to 23 passengers in a pod and make its technology “a reality in years, not decades”. Jay Walder, the current chief executive, said: “I can’t tell you how often I get asked, ‘is hyperloop safe?’ With today’s passenger testing, we have successfully answered this question, demonstrating that not only can Virgin Hyperloop safely put a person in a pod in a vacuum environment but that the company has a thoughtful approach to safety.”

The article was accompanied by this handy explanatory diagram.

The text’s blurry, but should read:

How it works

Hyperloop is a new mode of long-distance transportation that uses electromagnetic levitation and propulsion to glide a vehicle at airline speeds through a low-pressure tube.

Electromagnetic coils along the tube are supplied with an alternating current, causing them to rapidly switch polarity. Permanent magnets beneath the pod are attracted then repelled, creating forward motion and magnetic levitation.

It then shows a diagram of various other high speed vehicles with the proposed Hyperloop system for comparison. These are

Virgin Hyperloop …. 670 mph.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner …. 593 mph.

Maglev (Japan) …. 375 mph.

Javelin (UK) … 140 mph.

Well, colour me sceptical about all this. The ‘Virgin’ part of the company’s name makes me wonder if it’s part of Beardie Branson’s empire of tat. In which case, we’re justified in wondering if it this will ever, ever actually be put into operation. After all, Branson has been telling the good peeps, who’ve bought tickets for his Virgin Galactic journeys into space that everything’s nearly complete, and they’ll be going into space next year, for the past 25 years or so. I don’t believe that his proposed Spaceship 1 or whatever it’s called will ever fly, and that the whole business is being run as a loss so he can avoid paying tax legally. I don’t know how much it would cost to set up a full scale Hyperloop line running between two real towns between several stops within a single city like a subway, but I’d imagine it’d cost tens, if not hundreds of millions. I think it’s too expensive for any government, whether national or local authority, to afford, at least in the present economic situation.

And on a more humorous level, it also reminds me of the rapid transit system in the 2000 AD ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ strip. This was set in a far future in which humanity cowered underground, ruled over by the Terminators. They were a kind of futuristic medieval crusading order, dedicated to the extermination of all intelligent alien life, led by their ruthless leader, Torquemada. Earth was now called Termight, and humanity lived in vast underground cities linked by rapid transit tunnels. A system similar to the Hyperloop, the Overground, ran across Termight’s devastated surface. Termight’s surface had been devastated, not by aliens, but by strange creatures from Earth’s future, which had appeared during the construction of a system of artificial Black and White Holes linking Earth to the rest of the galaxy. These creatures included the Gooney Bird, a giant predatory bird that looked like it had evolved from the Concorde plane, which swept down from its nest in an abandoned city to attack the Overground trains and feed them to its young.

From: Nemesis the Warlock: Volume One, by Pat Mills, Kevin O’Neill and Jesus Redondo (Hachette Partworks Ltd: 2017)

The Hyperloop’s too close to the fictional Overground system for comfort. Will the company’s insurance cover attacks by giant rampaging carnivorous mechanical birds? The comparison’s particularly close as Termight’s surface is a desert waste, and the system was tested out in the Nevada desert.

I realise that ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ is Science Fiction, and that even with its successful test run on Tuesday, it’ll be years before the hyperloop system ever becomes a reality, but I think it might be wise to avoid it if it ever does. After all, you wouldn’t want to be on it when the metal claws and beak start tearing through the tunnel.

Anti-White Black Racism in Seattle’s Decolonised Mathematics Syllabus

September 20, 2020

This is another video from Sargon of Akkad, the man who broke UKIP. He put it up nearly a year ago in October 2019, and the subject he discusses comes from a Daily Caller article two years before that in 2017. It’s about the move from Seattle’s public schools board to get Black students to do better at mathematics by producing a syllabus that aims to teach them how White mathematics is being used to oppress them, and how they also use it to liberate people and communities of colour.

The maths syllabus is the creation of Tracy Castro-Gill, the ethnic studies program manager for Seattle public schools, and deals explicitly with issues like ‘origins, identity and agency’, and ‘power and oppression’. The article shows the syllabus itself and what it aims to teach Seattle’s schoolkids. This starts off by teaching them that mathematical theory is rooted in ancient histories and empires of colour. Sargon doesn’t have a problem with this, as mathematical theories and formulae have been discovered independently by different peoples over time. The Babylonians, he rightly says, had versions of Pythagoras’ theorem. But he makes the point that ’empires of colour’ can also mean ‘oppressors of colour’, as this is what empires are: one ethnic group ruling another.

The syllabus then moves to demand that teachers and students ‘create counterknowledge to origins of mathematical knowledge’. This teaching ‘power and oppression in western maths’. The syllabus claims that western maths is seen as the only legitimate mathematics, and is used to disenfranchise people of colour. It erases the historical contribution of people of colour. Sargon replies by stating that different peoples have indeed independently discovered different maths theorems and formulae, but that Western maths is based on the Greeks. The syllabus also requires students to learn the history of resistance and liberation of people of colour using maths, engineering and technology. Sargon says he knows some great stories, but they are all about western maths. Like how Archimedes defended Syracuse against a Roman invasion by having the Greek soldiers align their bronze shields so that they reflected the sun’s rays as a kind of death ray. He also tells the story of Archimedes’ death. The Romans sent a soldier to capture him. When the soldier finally caught him, Archimedes was busy trying to draw a perfect circle by going through as many small points as possible. He told the soldier not to bother him, so that the soldier stabbed him with his sword.

The syllabus also includes more general questions, asking students how the feel about themselves as mathematicians and who is a mathematician? Sargon argues that a mathematician is someone who gets a problem right. But he also says that he doesn’t know, because he’s been using maths in ordinary life since he left school, as well as in computers, but doesn’t think of himself as a mathematician. He also remarks that he studied logarithms at school, and after twenty or so years still hasn’t been in a sitution that requires them. Students are also asked what it means to make a mistake, and where does power and oppression show up in people’s maths experiences. Sargon jokingly responds to this that it shows up in his maths teacher, who told him off for getting his maths wrong. there are also questions like ‘how and why does data-driven processes prevent liberation?’, ‘how is maths manipulated to allow inequality and oppression to persist?’, ‘how has maths been used to liberate people and communities and colour from oppression?’ and ‘Can you advocate against oppressive mathematical practices?’

As Sargon points out at the beginning of his video, this is all about teaching Black children that they are oppressed, and White children that they should feel guilty. It’s political activism that shouldn’t have a place in maths. He also argues that some of this is actually dangerous when it comes to claiming that there is a distinction between White and Black mathematics. mathematical facts are true regardless of race or culture, and lives may depend on their correct application. For example, planes depend on engineers understanding the equations governing aerodynamics. These have to be correct, and it doesn’t matter whether the person doing these is White or Black. It’s either right or wrong, and if it’s wrong, then people may die.

I realise that Sargon is a man of the right, even extreme right, and that he himself says that this subject has already been discussed in right-wing newspapers and internet sites. Nevertheless, I think this is important and needs to be discussed and refuted. Because it, or something similar, may well come over here. Black activists are worried about Black schoolchildren’s underperformance in maths. It’s why, when I still got on with the Black and Asian Studies Association they asked me if I knew anything about Black mathematics. I didn’t, but sent them material on medieval Muslim mathematicians – Persian and Arab – for which they expressed their thanks. It wouldn’t surprise me if a group in Britain was demanding a similar approach in British schools following Black Lives Matter.

Here’s the video:

There have been other attempts to create a maths syllabus that would engage and inspire Black American pupils with controversial results. Back in the 1990s Private Eye’s ‘Funny Old World’ column carried a piece about the anger that had been sparked by one American school’s or schoolboard’s attempts to appeal to its Black students. It attempted to do so by framing maths problems in the setting of Black urban gangsta culture. One of the problems set featured two gangsters, Lucius and Rufus. They had guns that had different rates of fire and held clips of different numbers of bullets. The question was on how many times these gangsters would have to fire their weapons before they had to change the guns’ clips. The schoolboard attempted to justify this and and similar questions by claiming that it reflected the home environment of their students, and they were just trying to engage them through using it. But naturally, this horrifies everyone, Black and White, who doesn’t want violent criminals to be glamourised, or feels that Black children should be inspired to identify and aim for something better. There is a caveat to this story. Some of the items in the column are, shall we say, far-fetched and others have been shown to be urban legends, so it’s quite possible that the story’s fake and was made up as a spoof or joke. But looking at the blatant bias in Seattle’s maths syllabus, as bonkers as it is, it could also be true.

I’ve suggested before in a previous video that if educators really want to inspire Black children in maths, they could teach them about some of the maths problems studied by the ancient Egyptians, or failing that, the kind of maths problems they studied, as some of the formulae the Egyptians used aren’t accurate. They might also teach them the type of maths problems studied and taught in the schools of the great Islamic civilisations in north Africa. That would clearly be better than telling them that Whites have appropriated maths to oppress Blacks and other non-White peoples.

There is clearly a viciously anti-White racism in some of the academic doctrines and approaches now being advocated and taught as pro-Black. Critical Race Theory is another one, as it teaches that all White people are racist and any institutions they set up will automatically oppress non-Whites. Trump passed an executive order last week banning its teaching in federal government. services, including the police. But Trump is himself determined to indoctrinate children with his attack on anything he considers to be liberal propaganda being taught as part of history. He has just launched the 1776 Initiative, which aims to make American history teaching even more patriotic.

Such indoctrination, whether coming from the left or right has no place in schools. Children need to be taught objective facts, both in maths and history, and encouraged to make up their own minds about race, country and politics.

Britain and Russia Nearly Cooperated to Develop HOTOL Spaceplane

July 17, 2020

The news today has been partly dominated by reports that the Russians have been trying to steal secrets of a possible vaccine for Coronavirus. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t remotely surprise me if this was true. Way back in the 1990s the popular science magazine, Focus, did a feature on espionage which stated that most of it was industrial with competing corporations trying to steal each other’s secrets. And I think that during the Cold War the Russians were spying on British companies trying to steal technology. But during the ’90s there was a period when it seemed that Britain and Russia would work together to develop the British spaceplane, HOTOL.

HOTOL would have used a mixture of air-breathing and conventional rocket engines to get into orbit, taking off and landing on ordinary airstrips. It would have been initially unmanned, designed to carry payloads of 7,000-8,000 kilos into low Earth orbit. Crewed missions would be carried out by converting by converting the cargo compartment into a pressurized cabin. The project was cancelled because there were problems developing the air-breathing engines. It was hoped that the Europeans would be interested in supporting it, but they refused on the grounds of the possible cost. However, this resulted in plans for the plane to be adapted to take off from a Russian transport plane. The entry for ‘Spaceplanes’ in the book Space Exploration in the series of Chambers Encyclopedic Guides (Edinburgh: W&R Chambers 1992) says of this

In response to this, an interim HOTOL, using conventional rockets instead of the original air-breathing engines, has been proposed. The interim HOTOL, which has a shorter, fatter fuselage, would be carried to high altitude on the back of the huge Soviet-developed Antonov An-225 transport aircraft and then released. Once clear of the aircraft, HOTOL would fire its rocket motor to climb the rest of the way into orbit. If development were to be authorized it is believed that the first flight of the interim HOTOL could be in 2005. (p. 207).

This entry also contained the following artist’s impression of the HOTOL spaceplane taking off from the back of the Soviet transport plane.

I think this would have been an eminently practical project. The American X-15 rocket plane, which achieved orbit, was launched from a specially-equipped conventional aircraft, as were the various lifting bodies that led to the development of the Space Shuttle. If Britain and Russia had cooperated on it, then we and the Russians would be boldly going into space together 15 years ago. Obviously politics and doubtless costs intervened. I dare say that there was also concerns about technology transfer and the Russians acquiring British aerospace secrets.

But it’s an example of yet another opportunity to expand onto the High Frontier being missed. Nevertheless HOTOL has now been superseded by Skylon, which is almost complete and which should fly. If it gets the backing it needs to put Britain back in orbit.